Czech Republic: Abortion Services Not “Abortion Tourism” for EU Citizens

Anna Wilkowska-Landowska

Recently, the Czech Republic approved a bill that would extend abortion privileges and other health services to all European Union citizens.

Recently, the Czech Republic
cabinet unanimously approved a new bill that would extend abortion privileges
and other health services to all European Union (EU) citizens. Opponents of  the bill claim that the new regulations will enable
"abortion tourism" from the other European states where termination
of pregnancy is significantly restricted.

The European Union rules state
that all participating member states should provide the same services
and care to all EU citizens that local citizens receive. Even so, the
bill is strongly opposed by deputies of the Christian Democratic Union
(KDU-CSL), a junior governing party, who have concerns the Czech Republic
will become an "abortion tourism destination" for EU citizens.
Christian Democratic Union ministers in the cabinet, who approved the
bill, are strongly being pressured to withdraw the bill before it is
submitted to the Parliament by deputy party members, according to Ceske Noviny newspaper. As a reason for their opposition,
the KDU MPs gave their "conscience objections" to the bill’s
provision enabling EU citizens to undergo abortion in the Czech Republic.

The bill is part of the crucial and controversial package of reform
legislation promoted by Health Minister Tomas Julinek. Apart from abortion,
the bill deals with rules of assisted fertilization, sex change, sterilization
and other specific treatments.

The Christian Democrats have had long term
reservations about the planned provisions on abortion. They have campaigned
steadily in previous months against the abortion bill, as well as another
that would loosen restrictions on in-vitro fertilization.  The party
had proposed abortion restriction legislation in April, which included
a stricter time limit on health-related abortions and heightened consent
requirements. The Christian Democrats proposed to limit abortions on
"health grounds" to the 18th week of pregnancy and proposed
to allow fathers to have a say in whether a child is aborted, although
the father’s opinion will not be a "veto." They also proposed to raise
the age at which parental consent is required from 16 to 18 years old.

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Under current Czech law, unrestricted
abortion is allowed until 12 weeks gestation, and with "medical
indications" until 24 weeks.  Fetuses diagnosed with serious abnormalities
can be legally aborted at any gestational age.  Abortion was legalized
under the communist regime in 1957. The only restrictions beyond these
say that abortions must be spaced at least six months apart and the pregnant woman  must be at least 16 years old, unless she has the permission
of her parents. 

The opponents also say the
bill makes abortion rules excessively liberal, and that the
Czech Republic might become an abortion tourism destination. The "abortion
tourists" would most likely come from neighboring Poland, where
abortion is permitted only in cases of rape, significant fetal abnormality,
or the presence of a serious health threat to the mother.  Abortion was
made illegal in the country after the collapse of communism in 1993. 
Though coming to the Czech Republic for abortion care has been illegal until now according
to Czech law, Polish women seeking abortion have traveled
to the Czech Republic for the procedure.

It is important to add that
in spite of very liberal abortion legislation, the number of abortions
in the Czech Republic has been constantly dropping since the collapse
of the communist regime in November 1989. In 1970 almost 148,000 children
were born and 72,000 abortions were performed. In 2006, there were 25,400
abortions for a total population of 10,228,744 in the country. 
Last year, in 2007, over 114,000 children were born and 25,414 abortions

"The reason for high abortions during communist times
is that contraception was not available, and the abortion law was very
permissive," said Radim Uzel, executive director of the Czech Family
Planning Association. 

Despite the Czech Republic having one of the lowest birth rates in the
world – well below the replacement rate of 2.1,
at 1.22 – the citizens of the Czech Republic continue to strongly favor
abortion. A new public opinion poll conducted by the Public Opinion Research
Center CVVM
residents of the Czech Republic in June 2008 finds more people are inclined
to favor keeping abortions legal. The poll found about 75 percent of
Czech citizens want abortions to stay legal, an increase of about three
percent from the poll conducted in 2007. Some 15 percent said abortions should
be limited to only legitimate health reasons, another 6 percent said
abortions should only be allowed if the mother’s life is threatened
and one percent want all abortions made illegal.

The Institute
of Health Information and Statistics
of the Czech Republic

reported that women who already have children were more likely to get
an abortion. Some 35 percent of those obtaining abortions already have
two children, for example. That figure is consistent with most other European countries.

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